“It was like I was [Enrico] Caruso or something,” recalls Peter Murphy of his Aug. 12 show during his New York residency at Le Poisson Rouge last year. That evening’s performance was a blur, yet he vividly remembers feeling as if he were floating through one of the last songs in some kind of operatic flash. “All I remember was this wonderful, transcendent experience of ‘Creme De La Creme.’”
Several weeks prior to the nearly monthlong set of shows last summer, Murphy remembers feeling more fatigued but never experienced any deep chest pains until the night before the show — centered on his ninth album, Ninth — when he felt a gripping cramp in his left forearm that eventually moved to both of his arms, then all over, following sound check.
“People want to naturally deny what is going on because they’re afraid,” he says. “It’s irony. People break their back and get up and say, ‘Oh, I’m fine,’ but they’re not. I said, ‘Something is going on here. This is classic heart stuff, isn’t it?’”
In the end, Murphy finished the show and even encored with The Secret Bees of Ninth single “Gaslit.” (Doctors later informed him that adrenaline is triggered during a heart attack to keep a person going, which is why he was able to finish his entire performance.)
“I went back to the hotel and was up all night breathless, but like a good English chap, I waited until the morning to wake up the tour managers and tell them I was dying,” he jokes. “All I remember next is that I’m waking up [in the hospital], and my wife [dance choreographer Beyhan] is there. I said, ‘What are you doing in New York?’ She said, ‘You just had a heart attack, and you’ve been in a coma.’ That was it. I could have died at any point during that show.”
After a successful angioplasty procedure that cleared his right coronary artery with two stents, Murphy was in full recovery. A few weeks later, news broke that he would be reuniting with post-punk act Bauhaus in November for three shows at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium — the first time the band would perform together in 13 years. He later rescheduled residency dates that the heart attack forced him to cancel (a greatest-hits night, a Bauhaus show and two David Bowie tributes) at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, for Jan. 20-24.
“You just can’t stop me,” he says. “F— it, half of me is working. Let’s go.”
Near-death experiences can’t defuse Murphy’s innate charisma, wry wit and oft snarky humor. Drinking celery juice to lose his stomach, he assures that he’s still very “good-looking,” and it’s all natural. “I look in the mirror, and I want me,” he says. “I live like a fucking nun.”
Residencies are a new phenomenon for Murphy — his first run was in March 2019 at The Chapel in San Francisco — and something he wants to expand. It’s a means to present each performance differently and transform his albums as he desires. “The residency is something I’m going to be putting on whenever I want, and at any point,” he says. “But I think it’s a very hardcore audience. It’s real raw. It’s not like the theater. You play the same thing every night in the theater. This is different every night.”
For example, Murphy admits that 1992’s Holy Smoke isn’t his favorite album, but during the residencies, it translated sonically into something more expansive than the 1992 recorded version. This unpredictability of playing with the albums is what he loves about the residencies. “The songs are great, but you know when you take a photograph of something wonderful and it doesn’t come out right?” he muses. “I still feel that about the album. So the point is that it comes alive. You have the live element where it is taken off audio and it becomes visceral.”
Diving into Murphy’s catalog in its entirety was a challenge for his band, including longtime guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite, drummer Marc Slutsky and bassist-violinist Emilio “Zef” China, who, in the end, moved through each seamlessly. “It’s amazing and very evident that people are completely able to do much more than they imagine,” says Murphy. “Doing that with the band, and going on every night, was very fulfilling.”
For Murphy, every track comes back to him in muscle memory. “When you make an album, you work on it for a long time, you’re still listening to it and analyzing it, so even if you haven’t sang it live, you know it in your body when you hear it. Maybe it’s just me, but I can recall the intention of each song.”
Nearly six years after his 10th release, Lion, he’s focused on No. 11 now, returning to the studio with Killing Joke bassist Martin “Youth” Glover, who produced Lion and worked with Paul McCartney on their Fireman side venture. Murphy and Youth wrote Lion from scratch and recorded it within nine days between Youth’s Brixton, England, studio and his home situated in the mountains of Andalusia, Spain — a locale Murphy says enhances the depth and vastness of their collaborations. “It takes a certain attitude, devoid of ego and the aim of ‘I’ve got to write a great album,’” he says. “It’s very artistic in that sense.”
There are “a lot of songs” for the new album, and Murphy is pulling together musicians to reimagine the tracks in the studio. “Youth brings it along with a rough shot — not hurried, but loads of energy — and loads of reverb, which isn’t always cool, but you can feel the energy coming off that album [Lion],” says Murphy. “He pushed me off a cliff and told me to fly, and it was great, because it was happening so fast, and I love it. It was so thrilling to come in every day and forget what you’d done the previous day.” Once he’s back in the studio, possibly early this year, he intends to record the new album fairly quickly but doesn’t have a set release date.
Now back in Istanbul, his home for nearly 30 years where he raised his two children with Beyhan, Murphy says he often feels like an outsider — not just in Turkey, but wherever he goes — as an artist. “All artists feel dislocated in this sense because an artist is an outsider and has to find the inside. So we dive. We’re pearl divers. There are not many of us — there’s only me. We dive down and find pearls, bring them up and leave them on the shore for people to have.”
Still, he says he has an authentic life in Turkey, one that goes deeper than any social group. “I educated myself in certain ways and [about] certain things I’ve been fascinated with, the interior life and a self-knowledge, which transcends any mundane therapeutic stuff,” he says. “There’s also something wonderful about integrating into a culture, really connecting with it, and learning what works, the energy of it. It’s not that you always love it, but it broadens you.”
In between residencies and recording, Murphy reconnected with newly announced Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the next installment of the Watchmen release, one part of a trifecta of soundtracks the duo produced for the HBO series. (Reznor and Co. go way back with Murphy, opening for him during his 1990 Deep tour and Murphy having done a number of performances and recording sessions with Nine Inch Nails throughout the years.) Packaged around a Watchmen universe, Watchmen: Volume 3 features an unreleased record by a fictionalized band, The Nine Inch Nails, of which Murphy is a member. He says there’s a very post-apocalyptic concept in Watchmen that ties into the music. Fitting for the “Starman”-fused singer, the soundtrack closes with a slow-dripping piano instrumental of Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”
Then, there’s Bauhaus. The band is currently set to play London’s Alexandra Palace and Mexico City’s Frontón Mexico in April, plus a date at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and Primavera Sound Barcelona in June. Things have been hushed since last fall’s reunion of Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins, but for good reason, says Murphy. This may change as the band moves forward, but for now, it just wants to let Bauhaus’ music do the talking.
“We really don’t want to overstate it in any way and just let it speak for itself,” he says. “The point is, it’s the piece of music that’s important. It’s a bit like I’m sharing with you the schematic of a house that I’m building for you, the architectural plans. You love it, but it’s not the house. You’re not living in it at that point.
“Bauhaus is my root,” he adds. “Peter Murphy has done himself for so long. I’m good looking in and out of it, so it’s all right. All’s good.”